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Poetry From Rich H. Kenney, Jr., MSSW

The following is a collection of poetry from Rich H. Kenney, Jr., MSSW, social work program director and an associate professor at Chadron State College in Chadron, NE. A graduate from the University of Texas with a master's degree in social work, Kenney received a creative writing fellowship in poetry from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Recent publications include articles in Faculty Focus and poetry in Plainsongs.


The hills are therapists,
self-disclosing gently-used trails
to those banking low on esteem.

Climbing, we share aisles of alliance
with milkweed or coneflower;
and the sandy blowouts
Nebraskans know so well.

We can actually feel
the hills in our shoes —
empathy in extra wide.
They have a knack
for paraphrasing
what little effort is left,
helping us to see such triumphs
as grasshoppers vaulting
a bee hive box, tumbleweed
catching a crosswind, fleabane
purpling a rock face.

Up here, we grow handsomely
rich; overly paid in full attention.


The Painting Worth a Lesson Plan

There it was, the painting
Worth a lesson plan, maybe two.

First, its essay — the stories
In the wagon wheel's broken spoke;

In the storm-tested eyes of those
On the plain's hardscrabble line.

Then, techniques — the crisscross
Through the prairie, an inspiring caravan,

An unstoppable fleet in its steady,
Brush-stroked ride in desert ships,

Each sail a proud white bonnet
Of pleasing shapes and tonal accord

With faint shades of bias
And burnt umber blues,

Its growing slick
About to stain a nation-

The masterful work
In bloodred oil.


Hoping You'd Speak

Last week, I was hoping you'd speak.
I know you had something to say —
perhaps a question, a comment,
something to goad and galvanize

the quiet and listless classroom
last week. I was hoping you'd speak
to us openly, brazenly —
with unsparing sparkle and flare.

It was a professor's pipedream
with high expectations but, still,
last week, I was hoping. You'd speak
your mind — those hidden, gut wrenching

takes on life you secretly kept
inside. Now, in the candlelight's
dim glow, your sealed, unspoken words.
Last week, I was hoping you'd speak.


Hold Your Questions Until the End

She tells the class, then begins feeding
them lines, heady realities, notions of news
not so new to wrinkle their ways of thinking.

She is poetry and teaches resilience with rise,
racism with a fire stick strapped to a dream.

She tells of sweatshop women leaping
from windowsills, factory girls
in flaming skirts, the flurry of souls.

Jessica stiffens, Juan's eyes smolder.
Gripping verse rattles Room 202

which readies itself for wrongs
that much closer to home. So, with words,
she brush-strokes life at the boarding schools,

the cutting of hair and heart — the slashing
of a native tongue. Kill the Indian, Save the Man.

She paints a place called Wounded Knee —
blackens it with bullets, smears it with medals,
covers it with an off-white wash of guile.

She pauses as if to glimpse
the light of her work, to weigh the promise

of its watered-down glare
and asks, any questions?
Hands fly up.

"Hold Your Questions Until the End" was inspired by the following poets/artists and their poems/songs:
• Angelou, Maya: "Still I Rise"
• Hughes, Langston: "Harlem"
• Phillips, Robert: "Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire"
• Sainte-Marie, Buffy: "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" 
• Westerman, Floyd Red Crow: "Wounded Knee"


A Course With No Name

Have you ever given thought to gunmetal
rainbows, the ones some see in silhouette?
Or the existence of the dawn's black box
and a notion that tomorrow is nothing more
than the night growing rich in overtime? If
you've ever considered the widening cracks
in archways of light on the brink of collapse
or contemplated ways to sandbag sorrow,
vacuum clouds, or mend a broken daybreak —
this one's a beginning, an ascent, a sunrise
in the making ...